Interview: Peter Lawrie Winfield of Until The Ribbon Breaks on visual music, old-school mixtapes, and shot-in-the-dark collaboration

It has been a pretty good year for Peter Lawrie Winfield’s genre-mending music project Until The Ribbon Breaks. Over the summer, his “re-imagination” of Lorde’s “Royals” — unveiled before everyone started covering it — caught the attention of the teenage pop singer, who then enlisted Winfield first as a live DJ then as opening act. In September, his engaging, multi-layered A Taste of Silver EP scored rave reviews and distanced itself from the crowded pack of soulful electronic artists emerging from all corners of the world. And recently, his Marc Bertal-directed music video for “Pressure” has been garnering David Lynch comparisons.

More than the other two, perhaps, that last bit is no accident. Winfield’s post-apocalyptic avant-R&B goes best when seen with the eyes as well as heard with the ears, and the Welsh DJ, producer, songwriter, singer and collaborator has a background in film that allows him to pair his sounds with the sights your brain may already be associating with. Though lyrics center on dystopia and urban decay and isolation and fear, there is a seductive nature to it all. Through stark, desolate sounds, Winfield understands voyeurism, and the erotica in his music is staring back at you exactly how you’re staring at it. It’s future-pop for all senses.

With Until The Ribbon Breaks set to open tonight’s sold-out Phantogram show tonight at the Paradise Rock Club, we caught up with Winfield a while back to discuss the importance of visuals in music, how he hooked up with Homeboy Sandman, and just what, exactly, his project’s moniker means.

Michael Marotta: I wanted to start with the origins of Until The Ribbon Breaks, and exactly how this project crystallized for you.

Peter Lawrie Winfield: I was living in London, making music while I was writing for other people and I didn’t feel like I was saying what I wanted to say. I didn’t feel like there was anything out there in the world that had my name on it that I was particularly proud of of, or represented what I wanted.

So I took a gamble, really, and moved back to Wales, which is where I’m originally from, and built a little studio. Just ran up a lot of debt and credit cards and things [laughs] and kind of hid myself away for about a year. With a film projector, pianos, the works, and just kinda made the record, I suppose. The only reason I wanted to do it was so there was something that existed that I was proud of.

Was there a template for any particular sound, or just a blank slate going in?

Completely blank slate. I was excited by the prospect of, if someone asked me what did it sound like, me saying I really don’t know how to answer. Which is kind of, I think, on some of the tracks I’ve achieved, and that’s something I’m proud of. I don’t know what genre it is.

And that’s actually how the name came about.

I had finished the record, and I still didn’t know what it was called. Until it was mixed, it was just a record. And someone said ‘Well how are you going to present it? Because it jumps from genre to genre” And I said, “Well, I think what I want to create is when we were kids, or when you were an adult, you would make these mix tapes on cassette, for a friend, or a girl you were trying to impress. And if someone made you one, it was so precious to you that you’d play it and play it, and you didn’t care – from REM to De La Soul to Radiohead. It would jump from genre to genre, and you’d play it until the ribbon breaks.”

Oh shit!

And then I said “Fuck! Thank you, you’ve just given it a name!”

That’s a great backstory.

Yeah that’s how that came about.

It makes sense, because there’s a real emotional weight to the project; the songs are moody, very restless, without being forceful, and it seems like a pretty personal introduction to who you are. Were there elements of what you were going through at the time that crept into the sound you created?

Yeah definitely, a lot of it… I really didn’t know what I was making. I didn’t have any money, and I had no idea even if I wanted to go out into the world and present it. I just felt like I wanted to say these things, I had to say these things, and I suppose I spent a lot of time on my own, made the record on my own time, so I was quite isolated. And also I didn’t know what — whats the word I’m looking for — I had no sense of stability or balance at the time, and when I listen back to it, a lot of the lyrics are about trying to figure out where you’re at and what’s going on. I guess it’s a lot of trying to find where you’re at in this chaos.

There’s a real strong sense of sound on the EP — each sound is very deliberate, and has a certain effect, a certain mood. As a producer, do you consider yourself more of an artist than a musician, where the songs are crafted much more meticulously than say a garage rock band or a bigger-name EDM artist.

I suppose sounds-wise, everything I’ve ever listened to is an influence. And it jumps so massively between everything; I listen to a lot of film scores but I also love hip-hop. There’s definitely a song in every genre that I love. The production side of it is something I really love.

I’m glad that it came across as intricate because I definitely paid a lot of attention to the individual sound. I cant just make a bed for a song, you know, and I never could describe myself as a singer. For me [vocals are] just another layer to put in the song.

Another aspect to Until The Ribbon Breaks is the visual side. The videos all tie together and there is a visual component to the music. Do you want people to digest this all as a package? Do you want people to be visually stimulated while they listen to the songs?

It’s 100% as important. I did my university degree in film, that’s what I wanted to do. I still do that by making those videos. I wrote the songs in front of the projector and want people to see the videos and hear music at the same time. If I could control how people take ion music for the first time it would be with videos as well. I’m always most moved by the combination of moving images and sound.

I always say YouTube is the biggest music website in the world.


But shifting gears a bit, I saw Homeboy Sandman is featured on one of the tracks — how important is collaboration to you?

That’s sort of my favorite story of the whole record, actually. I heard a song by him called “The Illuminati,” which blew my head off. That’s probably the greatest, lyrically… one of the best things I ever heard. I was in the middle of making “Perspective,” when I heard it, and I had done my two verses, and I just thought “Fuck, the one person in who could do this concept, who could smash this out of water would be Homeboy Sandman.”

And I didn’t have a deal, or any team behind me — I was just making this record. So I guessed his email address! I just wrote an email to the guessed address — which I won’t tell you, but you could probably figure it out. I might even email him later because I thought, if this is ever written about, then people will guess his email address [laughs]! I’ll tell him he might have to change it.

It’s how own fault for having an obvious email address.

Yeah if you’re Rihanna@gmail.com, then you gotta expect it.

Yeah someone might figure that out.

Ahh! I’ve just given it away, what it is.

I think I had an idea.

So I emailed this email address, and said “Here’s the track, I don’t know if this is the right email address, I’m hoping it is. I heard “Illuminati,” and it’s an incredible piece of art, and if there’s any way you’d be interested in this…” So 24 hours later I had am email back from him saying “Yes I’d do it.”

And I said “How are we gonna do it, you’re in America and I’m in Wales, do you want to do it over email?” And he said “Well funny enough I’m in the UK in 2 weeks time at a place called Bristol, touring, do you know where that is?” I was like “I’m half hour away from there!”

Was meant to be.

Yeah, so I took my laptop to his tiny little hotel room, two weeks later, and recorded his verse. He did it in one take and that was it.

You’ve also worked with Lorde. How’d that come about.

I did a remix of “Royals” and she heard it and liked it so I supported her on a few dates as DJ. And when she booked the tour I asked her to come with a full band and she said yes.

No pressure.

Yeah, no pressure.

UNTIL THE RIBBON BREAKS + PHANTOGRAM + WEEKNIGHT :: Sunday, December 8 @ the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston :: 8pm, 18-plus, SOLD OUT ::